Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Posted at: Sep 15, 2018, 12:31 AM; last updated: Sep 15, 2018, 12:31 AM (IST)

Erectile dysfunction can indicate other diseases

Erectile dysfunction can indicate other diseases
Harbinger of bad things: Erectile Dysfunction may be an early marker of metabolic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease

Dr Col Rajeev Sood

The problem of erectile dysfunction (ED) has been growing at an alarming rate. In 1995, it affected around 152 million people globally. Recognised as a growing health problem, today, out of 7.6 billion global population, nearly 50 per cent of men over the age of 40 have some degree of ED. Many factors have contributed to these rising numbers. These include higher stress levels, poor diets and reduced physical activity. 

Some recent studies have shown that there could be a link between erectile dysfunction and other serious diseases. 

Link with other disorders

The biology of a penile erection involves the effective and close working between the cardiovascular and nervous systems. When a man is visually or physically stimulated, the nerves send messages to the blood vessels in the penis. The arteries relax, allowing the blood to rush in, and the veins close up, trapping the blood to hold the erection.  At the height of sexual excitement, the nerves send signals to the spinal cord, which in turn sends signals to the muscles at the base of the penis. Quick and powerful contractions occur every 0.8 seconds which force semen out of the penis – an occurrence known as ejaculation. 

Any problem or abnormality in the cardiovascular or nervous systems can directly affect a man’s ability to have an erection. The significance of this link has been understood only recently and doctors are now increasingly viewing ED as an early marker of metabolic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease, all of which impair the neurovascular system.

How ED is a sign

The neurovascular system of the penis is smaller and far more sensitive compared to the rest of the body and so a man’s sexual health is often the first to show signs of damage. For example in atherosclerosis, a condition in which the arterial walls harden because of a build-up of plaque. Because the blood vessels in the penis are much smaller than other organs in the body, these are more likely to get blocked first, which leads to erectile dysfunction. 

In order to better understand the link between ED and other metabolic conditions, one should remember that this cause-effect relationship is a complicated one. It is important to know that every patient with ED do not have heart disease or vice versa. There are many other factors that can influence this dynamic, such as the fact that some cardiovascular drugs can lead to ED. In light of new research, medical experts must take into account these correlations and recommend a full-body check-up if ED is diagnosed. 

Optimal sexual health requires body, mind and emotions to work together in synergy, but many conditions can interfere with this dynamic and cause ED. There is a need for understanding various causes behind erectile dysfunction and its associated conditions, so as to devise strategies to treat these conditions together and at a much earlier stage, when treatment can be more accurate and patient outcomes more positive. 

— The writer is a urologist with Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi


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